County voters say no to teacher raises, bond for school build question

After months of planning, presentations and controversy, the voters of Huntington County have weighed in on the Huntington County Community School Corporation’s two referendum questions, saying no to both of them.

From the time the first vote center’s ballots were posted, it didn’t look like the referendum would be successful. With subsequent vote centers reporting, the numbers never improved enough to approve either question.

The final vote was 4,702 (50.28 percent) “no” to 4,649 (49.72 percent) “yes” on Question 1, known as the “Operating Question,” which would have imposed a property tax rate of no more than six cents on each $100 of assessed property valuation.

It was 5,241 (56.74 percent) “no” to 3,996 (43.26 percent) “yes” votes on Question 2, known as the “Project Question,” which would have given HCCSC the go-ahead to issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance the 2020 Safety, Security, Replacement, and Restoration Project, which includes the renovation of and improvements to Huntington North High School, estimated to cost about $68,480,000 and would have increased the property tax rate by a maximum of $0.3381 per $100 of assessed valuation.

With arguably as many signs posted in yards as for political candidates, voters in the county were deeply divided over issues of taking on tax increases versus building a new high school and giving competitive salary increases to teachers.

There was little weigh-in from the public during the community forum presentations and public hearings held on the two proposals. Most of the public input was in the way of questions as to how much their taxes would increase and how the money raised would be spent.

Mathew Roth, the president of the school board, reacted to the news by extending his thanks to everyone who supported the referendum and thehard work they put into bringing the matter before the voters.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the results. I think the education that we provide took a step back today,” Roth said Tuesday. “It’s just disappointing that our community doesn’t support teachers and it’s disappointing that they weren’t able to support the needed renovations at Huntington North.”

Roth said the school board will regroup and involve the community in the options it has open to them now that the referendum questions have failed. He said a public forum would likely be held in the future.

“I think we will talk as a board, we will be open and transparent and we will develop a process for how we think we can best use the money that we do have to put toward Huntington North,” he added. “We approached this process with honesty, transparency and integrity, and it just looks like we have some more work to do.”

HCCSC has about $20 million left over from the new Roanoke Elementary School building and HNHS renovation project that it borrowed within its tax caps. However, Roth says that will not be enough to cover the cost of the high school building project, which is estimated to be less expensive than repairing and rehabbing the current building.

“We thought that was the best service to the taxpayer, was to borrow within our current budget, so we borrowed as much as much as we were able to, within our budget,” Roth says. “The problem is, that won’t address all the needs of the building, so we will need to have discussions in public and engage the public in what’s our best option going forward.”

The school board met in a special work session and held a public hearing on the HCCSC/Huntington County Teachers Association tentative agreement on Wednesday, Nov. 6. At press time there was no mention of whether the referendum would be an item of discussion.

The next HCCSC School Board regular meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. at Salamonie Elementary School, 1063E-900S, Warren. Those unable to attend may view a live-stream video of the meeting online by going to https://livestream.com/HNHS or by visiting the HCCSC website at hccsc.k12.in.us and clicking on the “FEATURED VIDEO” link on the left side of the web page.